“One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world will be better for this.”
—Miguel de Cervantes
Some years ago (my kids figure it was the 1930’s) I hosted a morning radio show. It required getting up very early, driving downtown in the darkest hours of the night—and then pretending to be wide awake and chipper. In truth, most mornings, I wanted to be thrown—wide-awake—into a chipper.
But my radio experience was a distinct privilege—especially in the world of talk radio—where guests and callers always enriched the conversation with amazing stories. Maybe not true stories, but good ones.
One morning, while other serious-minded radio talk hosts were discussing world affairs, domestic policy and city politics, I brought up a different topic question: “Where’d you get that scar?”
The phones lit up like a crowd at Hempfest.
“I fell down a flight of stairs and landed face-first onto the prongs of a garden rake,” said one caller. I thanked the caller and then read a live commercial for a gardening nursery.
“When I was a kid,” said another person, “I was fooling around with my new puppy when he suddenly clamped his jaws onto my nose like a metal clamp. My nose must have looked like a Snausage.” Twenty-five years later, the caller said, his nose still has the scar tissue of a prizefighter. One who usually loses.
Other callers told stories of childhood skateboard mishaps, neighbor kids throwing rocks into faces—and in one amazing tale, slipping on a kitchen floor—and landing headlong onto a red-hot waffle iron. (Perhaps it is why breakfast can be the most dangerous meal of the day.)
Flawless skin, head to toe, is nice to look at. But bodies with scars are far more interesting. My brother Mike has had so many knee surgeries that his legs look like railroad route maps. Yet, he unembarrassedly wears shorts all the time.
Kris Kristofferson said he got some scars from playing baseball and football—but now his wrinkles are starting to hide them.
Kristofferson was a Rhodes scholar—so that must mean that people with scars got them because they’re so smart, right? Not the case with me.
I have a fairly long scar running from the top of my left rib cage to down south about five or six inches. It’s hard to see the scar these days, especially when I’m wearing an overcoat.
It would be a delight to report that my scar came from a wound received from rescuing
a little old lady from a knife-wielding maniac.
Or from an enemy bayonet in armed combat.
Even being slightly gored from a bull-running incident at Pamplona would be vastly superior to the real way I was punctured.
It happened like this: Two friends and I—in our late teen years—had loads of free time on our hands since we were not busy doing charitable work or attending Mensa meetings.
One guy, Eric, had just acquired a used car. Today, he remembers it as maybe an Oldsmobile Rocket 88—a big, heavy car as long a football field.
For reasons that perhaps only a teenage boy can explain, we thought it would be fun for two of us to sit in the parked car—while the third person—me— would crouch in front of the car just below the front grill. Then—to simulate a person being hit by a car—I would suddenly rise up, fling myself onto the hood of the car, and roll around goofily. If that’s not the stupidest gambit ever, it must certainly be in the top five.
What I did not notice in those moments before my performance, was the extremely sharp-pointed hood ornament on the Oldsmobile—shaped like a jet airplane—so when I lurched up and thrust myself onto the car hood, I also impaled myself.
Somehow I pulled myself free and ran to my house. I rushed into a bathroom, applied a big band-aid, and tried to stay conscious. I should have gone to the hospital, but was so embarrassed by the pure stupidity of it all, that I kept it a secret from my parents.
Years later, I finally told my mom. She said, “I’m not surprised. You did a lot of dumb stuff.”
It is often said that it’s the scars in life that define our individual character—that we don’t learn from successes, but from failures—and the scars that come with them.
But whether the scars are on the inside—or out—few of us can get through an entire lifetime without at least one or two. And if you don’t have one by now, you need to go out and get one.
So find yourself an Oldsmobile Rocket 88 with a wicked hood ornament.
Get a scar.
Stretch marks don’t count.